Car of the Year 2009: No. 3: BMW M3

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Shifting Gearboxes
The BMW M3 is the dark horse that almost took this year’s title. None of our judges expected the top-level 3 Series to blow them away with its perfectly balanced combination of engine performance, handling prowess, and what can only be described as the best automated shifter on the planet. BMW’s long-reviled sequential manual gearbox is gone, replaced in our test vehicle by an optional, super-smooth double-clutch transmission. Forget manual shifting; with this transmission, awestruck passengers will never sense even the slightest hesitation in acceleration or driveline lunge during every perfectly executed downshift. The M3’s only drawback is its less-than-grown-up size and demeanor. But with this much fun to be had for a base price of about $60,000, who wants to grow up? —Gregory Anderson

 

Perfection Within Its Clutch
By any measurement of value, by any parameter of performance, BMW’s new M3—whether in the form of a sedan, a coupe, or a convertible—delivers more dash for the dollar than any high performer in the middling-five-figure price range. Our judges left no doubt as to the principal reasons for their general delight: an optional double clutch mated to an automated manual 7-speed transmission devoid of any shift shock, and, finally, after more than two decades of inline sixes, a V-8 tuned to generate a useful 414 hp at an incredible 8,300 rpm. The sum of all these parts is a flat, crisp-handling, comfortable, flexible vehicle that has all the moves of a rally car—and remains far removed from pedestrian realities. —Paul Dean

 

Paddling the Competition
This newest iteration from the BMW Motorsport division’s popular series is endowed with a robust 4-liter V-8 that makes a slightly larger power-bulge in the hood than does the uprated inline 6-cylinder engine that equipped the car’s predecessors. Add to this a set of optional 19-inch wheels, low-profile tires, and a snarling four-pipe exhaust, and this M3 has earned serious bragging rights.

But wait—there’s more. This year, the M3 is available with BMW’s 7-speed double-clutch automatic transmission, which takes paddle-shifting to a new level. Not only does the double-clutch version blow away the company’s often balky SMG automatic transmission, but it equals the smooth performance of the Porsche and even challenges Ferrari’s place on the paddle-shifting throne. —Marco R. della Cava

SPECIFICATIONS:

Configuration Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe/convertible
Engine 4-liter V-8
Transmission 7-speed double-clutch automated manual (optional)
Power 414 hp at 8,300 rpm
Torque 295 ft lbs at 3,900 rpm
Zero to 60 4.5 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph
Base Price $59,025 (coupe), $67,475 (convertible)
Price as Tested $72,795 (coupe), $75,025 (convertible)
Robb Report Rating 98.7
BMW, www.bmwusa.com

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